Facing a potential three-game losing streak, the Chicago Bears are hoping for Jay Cutler’s return.
The Minnesota Vikings surely don’t share that sentiment.
With Cutler’s status still up in the air, the Bears may have to rely on a better performance from backup Jason Campbell as they try to continue their dominance of the rested Vikings on Sunday at Soldier Field.
Cutler is trying to return from a concussion suffered in a 13-6 home loss to Houston two weeks ago. He sat out Monday’s 32-7 loss at San Francisco, while Campbell connected on 14 of 22 passes for 107 yards with one touchdown, two picks and six sacks.
That performance left offensive coordinator Mike Tice itching for Cutler’s return against the Vikings (6-4).
“God, I hope (he can play),” Tice said. “I do, I really do. Not anything against Jason. Jason did a remarkable job based on the opportunities he was afforded. We’ve got to get our guy back.”
Cutler has been given the go-ahead to practice on a limited basis, but still has to be cleared by an independent neurologist to play Sunday.
“You trust the doctors and our training staff that we’re going to make the right decision for my health, not only in the near future but in my lifetime going forward,” Cutler said.
“I think everyone’s perspective has changed (regarding concussions) because there is just more awareness, there is more information. (But) it’s not going to change the way I play football. It’s not going to change my desire to return to the field by any means.”
Minnesota would certainly prefer if Cutler had to sit again. He’s led Chicago (7-3) to wins in each of his last four starts in this series, with three coming at Soldier Field.
He’s tossed 12 touchdowns compared to four interceptions with a 104.5 passer rating in those contests.
The Bears beat the Vikings 17-13 on the road in Week 17 last season as Josh McCown filled in for an injured Cutler. McCown would serve as Campbell’s backup if Cutler can’t go.
The Bears have won 10 of the last 11 home meetings with Minnesota, including four in a row. Overall, they’ve won five straight, one shy of their longest run in the series set from 1983-86.
“You’re going to play a great team on their home field, a place that we’ve struggled at,” Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway said. “But this is a new year, a new team. And I think we’re going to have a focus going in there that we’re going to give ourselves a chance.”
Another strong performance from Adrian Peterson should improve Minnesota’s chances.
Peterson leads the league with 1,128 rushing yards, averaging 5.8 per carry with seven touchdowns. He’s gained 629 of those yards and scored five times on 82 carries over the last four games.
Peterson came up big again prior to the Vikings’ bye two weeks ago, carrying the ball 27 times for 171 yards – with 61 coming on a fourth-quarter TD in a 34-24 win over Detroit.
After averaging 138.5 yards per game and 6.2 per carry while scoring eight TDs in his first four games against Chicago, Peterson has been limited to 67.3 per contest – and 3.4 a touch – on the ground while scoring four times in his last four.
The Bears enter this matchup with the league’s fifth-ranked defense (311.9 yards per game), but the team seems to be defined by turnovers. Chicago is plus-18 in the turnover department in its seven wins and minus-6 in its three losses.
It didn’t force one for the first time all season in San Francisco, and also continued to struggle against the run. The Bears have allowed an average of 131.5 yards on the ground in their last four games – 60.5 more than they surrendered during their first six.
Still, coach Lovie Smith is looking on the bright side since Chicago is tied with Green Bay for first place in the North.
“We have to take 7-3 into it,” Smith said. “And I’m not disappointed in us being at the top of our division with the best record, tied for the best record in our division. That’s the football team that we are.”
The Bears’ leaky offensive line has allowed 34 sacks – second-most in the league – and that’s great news for Jared Allen. Minnesota’s star defensive end has 13 sacks in eight games versus Chicago – 4 1/2 in two meetings last season.
“There has to be a sense of urgency, and this game is as big as it gets this week,” Allen said. “Might as well be the Super Bowl for this week. Then we’ll move on to next week.”